Ecclesiastes 12:2
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
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(2) Here the style rises, and we have a figurative description of the “evil days;” but, as sometimes happens in the case of highly wrought poetry, it is much easier to perceive the general effect intended than to account for all the words which produce it. English readers generally have been deeply impressed by Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, in a general way understanding them as speaking of the dissolution of the noble structure of the bodily frame; and they scarcely gain anything by the efforts of commentators to explain to them what exactly is meant by the “silver cord” and the “golden bowl.” After using all the help my predecessors have given me, I frankly own myself unable to give more than a vague account of the figures employed in this whole passage.

Darkened.—See Ecclesiastes 11:8. On darkness of the heavens as a symbol of calamity, comp. Isaiah 13:10-11; Jeremiah 4:28-29; Ezekiel 32:7-9; Joel 2:1-10; Amos 8:9-10; and contrast Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 60:10.)

Ecclesiastes 12:2. While the sun, or the light, &c. — Hebrews While the sun, and the light, and the moon, &c. That clause, and the light, seems to be added to signify, that he speaks of the darkening of the sun, and moon, and stars, not in themselves, but only in respect of that light which they afford to men. And therefore the same clause which is expressed after the sun, is to be understood after the moon and stars. And those expressions may be understood of the outward parts of the body, and especially of the face, the beauty of the countenance, the pleasant complexion of the cheeks, the liveliness of the eyes, which are compared to the sun, and moon, and stars, and which are obscured in old age, as the Chaldee paraphrast understands it. Or of the inward faculties of the mind, the understanding, fancy, memory, which may not improperly be resembled to the sun, moon, and stars, and all which are sensibly decayed in most old men. Or of external things, of the change of their joy, which they had in their youth, into sorrow, and manifold calamities, which are usually the companions of old age. This interpretation agrees both with the foregoing verse, in which he describes the miseries of old age, and with the following clause, which is added to explain those otherwise ambiguous expressions; and with the Scripture use of this phrase; for a state of comfort and happiness is often described by the light of the sun, and a state of trouble is set forth, by the darkening of the light of the sun. Nor the clouds return after the rain — This phrase denotes a perpetual succession of rain, and clouds bringing rain, and then rain and clouds again. Whereby he expresses either the rheums or defluctions which incessantly flow in old men; or the continual vicissitude of infirmities, diseases, and griefs; one deep calling upon another.

12:1-7 We should remember our sins against our Creator, repent, and seek forgiveness. We should remember our duties, and set about them, looking to him for grace and strength. This should be done early, while the body is strong, and the spirits active. When a man has the pain of reviewing a misspent life, his not having given up sin and worldly vanities till he is forced to say, I have no pleasure in them, renders his sincerity very questionable. Then follows a figurative description of old age and its infirmities, which has some difficulties; but the meaning is plain, to show how uncomfortable, generally, the days of old age are. As the four verses, 2-5, are a figurative description of the infirmities that usually accompany old age, ver. 6 notices the circumstances which take place in the hour of death. If sin had not entered into the world, these infirmities would not have been known. Surely then the aged should reflect on the evil of sin.While ... not - Or, Before. The darkening of the lights of heaven denotes a time of affliction and sadness. Compare Ezekiel 32:7-8; Job 3:9; Isaiah 5:30. Contrast this representation of old age with 2 Samuel 23:4-5. 2. Illustrating "the evil days" (Jer 13:16). "Light," "sun," &c., express prosperity; "darkness," pain and calamity (Isa 13:10; 30:26).

clouds … after … rain—After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return.

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars be not darkened, Heb. While the sun, and the light, and the moon, &c. That clause, and the light, seems to be added to signify that he speaks of the darkening of the sun, and moon, and stars, not in themselves, or in their own bodies, but only in respect of that light which they afford to men. And therefore the same clause which is expressed after the sun, is to be understood after the moon and stars, as is very usual in Scripture in like cases. And those expressions are to be understood either,

1. Literally, of the dim-sightedness of old men, by reason whereof the light of the sun, &c. seems dark to them; which seems not to agree with the context, partly because the dimness of their sight is expressed in the next verse, and partly because both his and the following verses are wholly allegorical. Or rather,

2. Figuratively, and that either,

1. Of the outward parts of the body, and especially of the face, the beauty of the countenance, the lightsome and pleasant complexion of the cheeks, the liveliness of the eyes, which are compared to the sun, and moon, and stars, and which are obscured in old age, as the Chaldee paraphrast understands it. Or,

2. Of the inward parts of the mind, the understanding, fancy, memory, which may not unfitly be resembled to the sun, and moon, end stars, and all which are sensibly decayed in most old men. For it may seem improbable that Solomon in his description of the infirmities of old age should omit the decays of the most noble part of man, which are commonly incident to old age. And yet, with submission to those worthy persons who think otherwise, it seems not necessary that he should here speak of those inward decays, partly, because they are not so general in old men as the decays of the body are; partly, because he here directeth his speech to sensual men, who are more affected with corporal than with intellectual maladies; and partly, because both the foregoing and following passages concern the state of men’s bodies, and their outward condition. Or rather,

3. Of external things, and of the great change of their joy and prosperity, which they had in their youthful time, into sorrow and manifold calamities, which are usually the companions of old age; for this interpretation seems best to agree both with the foregoing verse, in which he describes the miseries of old age, and with the following clause, which is added to explain and determine those otherwise ambiguous expressions; and with the Scripture use of this phrase, which is the best key for the understanding of Scripture; for a state of comfort and happiness is oft described by the light of the sun, &c., as Judges 5:31 2 Samuel 23:4 Isaiah 30:26 60:20, and a time and state of great trouble is set forth by the darkening of the light of the sun, &c., as Isaiah 13:9, &c.; Isaiah 24:23 Joel 2:10 3:15 Matthew 24:29, and oft elsewhere.

Nor the clouds return after the rain: this phrase notes a perpetual succession and reciprocation of rain, and clouds bringing rain, and then rain and clouds again, and so without end; whereby he expresseth either,

1. The rheums or deflutions which do abundantly and incessantly flow in and from old men, for want of natural heat and strength to prevent or remove them. Or rather,

2. The continual vicissitude of infirmities, diseases, and griefs in old men, one deep calling upon another, and one affliction beginning at the end of another; whereas in young men after rain the clouds are dispersed, and fair weather succeeds.

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,.... The wise man proceeds to describe the infirmities of old age, and the troubles that attend it; in order to engage young men to regard God and religion, before these come upon them, which greatly unfit for his service. This the Targum and Midrash, and, after them, Jarchi, interpret of the splendour of the countenance of man, of the light of his eyes, and the beauty of his cheeks, and other parts of his face; which decrease and go off at old age, and paleness and wrinkles succeed: and others of the adversities and calamities which attend persons at such years; which are sometimes in Scripture signified by the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, Isaiah 13:10; but some choose to understand this, more literally, of the dimness of sight in old men; by whom the light of the sun, moon, and stars, is scarcely discerned: but as this infirmity is afterwards described, I rather think with others, that by the "sun", "light", and "moon", are meant the superior and inferior faculties of the soul, the understanding, mind, judgment, will, and affections; and, by the "stars", those bright notions and ideas raised in the fancy and imagination, and fixed in the memory; all which are greatly impaired or lost in old age: so Alshech interprets the sun and moon of the soul and spirit, and the stars of the senses; "light" is not in the Syriac version;

nor the clouds return after the rain; which some understand of catarrhs, defluxions, and rheums, flowing at the eyes, nose, and mouth, one after another, which frequently attend, and are very troublesome to persons in years; but may be more generally applied to the perpetual succession of evils, afflictions, and disorders, in old age; as soon as one is got over, another follows, billow after billow; or, like showers in April, as soon as one is gone, another comes. The Targum paraphrases it of the eyebrows distilling tears, like clouds after rain.

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, are not darkened, nor the {a} clouds return after the rain:

(a) Before you come to a continual misery: for when the clouds remain after the rain, man's grief is increased.

2. while the sun, or the light] The imagery falls in naturally with the thought that the approach of death is represented by the gathering of a tempest. It does not follow, however, that this excludes the thought of a latent symbolism in detail as well as in the general idea. The thought that man was as a microcosm, and that each element in the universe had its analogue in his nature, was a familiar one to the Greek and Oriental mind, and was susceptible of many applications. So, to take an instance belonging to a different age or country, we find an Eastern poet thus writing, circ. a. d. 1339,

“Of all that finds its being in the world

Man in himself the symbol true may find.

His body is as earth, and as the Heaven

His head, with signs and wonders manifold,

And the five senses shine therein as stars.

The Spirit, like the sun, pours light on all.

The limbs, that bear the body’s burden up,

Are as the hills that raise their height to heaven.

Hair covers all his limbs, as grass the earth,

And moisture flows, as flow the streams and brooks.

So on the day when soul and body part,

And from the body’s load the soul is freed,

Then canst thou see the body all a-tremble,

As earth shall tremble at the last great day;

The Spirit with its senses fall away,

As stars extinguished fall on earth below;

The last death-sigh with which the body dies

Thrill through the bones, like tempest-blast and storm.

As on that day the hills shall pass away,

So does death’s storm break up our mortal frame.

A sea of death-damps flows from every pore:

Thou plungest in, and art as drowned therein:

So is thy dying like the great world’s death;

In life and death it is thy parallel.”

From the Gulschen Ras of Mahmud, quoted in Tholuck’s Blüthen-Sammlung aus der morgenländischen Mystik, p. 213.

It will be admitted that the parallelism is singularly striking and suggestive. With this clue to guide us we may admit all that has been urged by Umbreit, Ginsburg and others in favour of the “storm” interpretation and yet not reject the more detailed symbolic meaning of Jewish and other commentators. We may have the broad outline of the phenomena that precede a tempest, sun, moon and stars, hidden by the gathering blackness. A like imagery meets us as representing both personal and national calamity in Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9. The sun may be the Spirit, the Divine light of the body, the moon as the Reason that reflects that light, the stars as the senses that give but a dim light in the absence of sun and moon. The clouds that return after rain are the natural symbol of sorrows, cares, misfortunes, that obscure the shining of the inward light, perhaps of the showers of tears which they cause, but after which in the melancholy and gloom of age and weakness they too commonly “return.” The mere anatomical interpretation which interprets the first four symbols as referring to the eyes, the brow, the nose, the cheeks, and finds in the “clouds after rain” the symptoms of the catarrh of old age, may be looked upon as a morbid outgrowth of prosaic fancy in men in whom the sense of true poetic imagination was extinct.

Verse 2. - From this verse onwards there is great diversity of interpretation. While some think that the approach of death is represented under the image of a storm, others deem that what is here intended is first the debility of old age, and then, at ver. 6, death itself, which two stages are described under various metaphors and figures. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened. Under these figures the evil days spoken of above, the advent and infirmities of old age, are represented. It would be endless and unprofitable to recount the explanations of 'the terms used in the following verses. Every commentator, ancient and modern, has exerted his ingenuity to force the poet's language into the shape which he has imagined for it. But, as we said above, there are at least two distinct lines of interpretation which have found favor with the great majority of expositors. One of these regards the imagery as applicable to the effects of a heavy storm upon a house and its inmates, explaining every detail under this notion; the other regards the terms used as referring to the man himself, adumbrating the gradual decay of old age, the various members and powers that are affected being represented under tropes and images, Both interpretations are beset with difficulties, and are only with some straining and accommodation forced into a consistent harmony. But the latter seems to us to present fewer perplexities than the other, and we have adopted it here. At the same time, we think it expedient to give the other view, together with our own, as there is much to be said in its favor, and many great writers have declared themselves on its side. Wright supposes (and makes a good case for his theory) that Koheleth is referring especially to the closing days of winter, which in Palestine are very fatal to old people. The seven last days, indeed, are noted even now as the most sickly and dangerous of all the year. The approach of this period casts a dark shadow upon all the inhabitants of the house. The theory is partly borne out by the text, but, like the other solutions, does not wholly correspond to the wording. In the present verse the approach of old age, the winter of life, is likened to the rainy season in Palestine, when the sun is obscured by clouds, and the light of heaven darkened by the withdrawal of that luminary, and neither moon nor stars appear. And the clouds return after the rain; i.e. one storm succeeds another (Job 37:6). The imagery is intended to represent the abiding and increasing inconveniences of old age. Not like the spring-time of life and season, when sunshine and storm are interchanged, winter and old age have no vicissitudes, one dreary character invests them both. The darkening of the light is a common metaphor for sorrow and sadness (see Job 30:26; Job 33:28, 30; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Amos 8:9). The symbolism of the details in this verse has been thus elucidated: The diurnal lights appertain to the soul, the nocturnal to the body; the sun is the Divine light which illumines the soul, the moon and the stars are the body and the senses which receive their radiance from the soul's effulgence. These are all affected by the invasion of old age. Some consider that this verse depicts the changes which pass over the higher and more spiritual part of man's nature, while the succeeding imagery refers to the breaking up of the corporeal frame. We should say rather that ver. 2 conveys a general impression, and that this is then elaborated into particulars. According to the interpretation mentioned above, a gathering tempest is here depicted, the details of which are worked out in the following verses. Ecclesiastes 12:2"Ere the sun becomes dark, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain." Umbreit, Elster, and Ginsburg find here the thought: ere death overtakes thee; the figure under which the approach of death is described being that of a gathering storm. But apart from other objections (vid., Gurlitt, "zur Erlk. d. B. Koheleth," in Sutd. u. Krit. 1865), this idea is opposed by the consideration that the author seeks to describe how man, having become old, goes forth (חלך, Ecclesiastes 12:5) to death, and that not till Ecclesiastes 12:7 does he reach it. Also Taylor's view, that what precedes Ecclesiastes 12:5 is as a dirge expressing the feelings experienced on the day of a person's death, is untenable; it is discredited already by this, that it confuses together the days of evil, Ecclesiastes 12:1, and the many days of darkness, i.e., the long night of Hades, Ecclesiastes 11:8; and besides, it leaves unanswered the question, what is the meaning of the clouds returning after the rain. Hahn replies: The rain is death, and the return is the entrance again into the nothingness which went before the entrance into this life. Knobel, as already Luther and also Winzer (who had made the exposition of the Book of Koheleth one of the labours of his life), sees in the darkening of the sun, etc., a figure of the decay of hitherto joyful prosperity; and in the clouds after the rain a figure of the cloudy days of sorrow which always anew visit those who are worn out by old age. Hitz., Ewald, Vaih., Zckl., and Tyler, proceeding from thence, find the unity of the separate features of the figure in the comparison of advanced old age, as the winter of life to the rainy winter of the (Palestinian) year. That is right. But since in the sequel obviously the marasmus senilis of the separate parts of the body is set forth in allegorical enigmatic figures, it is asked whether this allegorical figurative discourse does not probably commence in Ecclesiastes 12:2. Certainly the sun, moon, and stars occur also in such pictures of the night of judgment, obscuring all the lights of the heavens, as at Isaiah 13:10; but that here, where the author thus ranks together in immediate sequence והךּ ... השּׁ, and as he joins the stars with the moon, so the light with the sun, he has not connected the idea of certain corresponding things in the nature and life of man with these four emblems of light, is yet very improbable. Even though it might be impossible to find out that which is represented, yet this would be no decisive argument against the significance of the figures; the canzones in Dante's Convito, which he there himself interprets, are an example that the allegorical meaning which a poet attaches to his poetry may be present even where it cannot be easily understood or can only be conjectured.

The attempts at interpreting these figures have certainly been wholly or for the most part unfortunate. We satisfy ourselves by registering only the oldest: their glosses are in matter tasteless, but they are at least of linguistic interest. A Barajtha, Shabbath 151-152a, seeking to interpret this closing picture of the Book of Koheleth, says of the sun and the light: "this is the brow and the nose;" of the moon: "this is the soul;" of the stars: "this the cheeks." Similarly, but varying a little, the Midrash to Lev. c. 18 and to Koheleth: the sun equals the brightness of the countenance; light equals the brow; the moon equals the nose; the stars equals the upper part of the cheeks (which in an old man fall in). Otherwise, but following the Midrash more than the Talmud, the Targum: the sun equals the stately brightness of thy countenance; light equals the light of thine eyes; the moon equals the ornament of thy cheeks; the stars equals the apple of thine eye. All the three understand the rain of wine (Talm. בכי), and the clouds of the veil of the eyes (Targ.: "thy eye-lashes"), but without doing justice to אחר שׁוב; only one repulsive interpretation in the Midrash takes these words into account. In all these interpretations there is only one grain of truth, this, viz., that the moon in the Talm. is interpreted of the נשׁמה, anima, for which the more correct word would have been נפשׁ; but it has been shown, Psychol. p. 154, that the Jewish, like the Arab. psychology, reverses terminologically the relation between רוח (נשׁמה), spirit, and נפשׁ, soul.

The older Christian interpretations are also on the right track. Glassius (as also v. Meyer and Smith in "The portraiture of old age") sees in the sun, light, etc., emblems of the interna microcosmi lumina mentis; and yet better, Chr. Friedr. Bauer (1732) sees in Ecclesiastes 12:2 a representation of the thought: "ere understanding and sense fail thee." We have elsewhere shown that חיים רוח (נשׁמת) and חיּה נפשׁ (from which nowhere חיים נפשׁ) are related to each other as the principium principians and principium principatum of life (Psychol. p. 79), and as the root distinctions of the male and female, of the predominantly active and the receptive (Psychol. p. 103). Thus the figurative language of Ecclesiastes 12:3 is interpreted in the following manner. The sun is the male spirit רוח (which, like שׁמשׁ, is used in both genders) or נשׁמה, after Proverbs 20:27, a light of Jahve which penetrates with its light of self-examination and self-knowledge the innermost being of man, called by the Lord, Matthew 6:23 (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11), "the light that is in thee." The light, viz., the clear light of day proceeding from the sun, is the activity of the spirit in its unweakened intensity: sharp apprehension, clear thought, faithful and serviceable memory. The moon is the soul; for, according to the Heb. idea, the moon, whether it is called ירח or לבנה is also in relation to the sun a figure of the female (cf. Genesis 37:9., where the sun in Joseph's dream equals Jacob-Israel, the moon equals Rachel); and that the soul, viz., the animal soul, by means of which the spirit becomes the principle of the life of the body (Genesis 2:7), is related to the spirit as female σκεῦος ἀστηενέστερον, is evident from passages such as Psalm 42:6, where the spirit supports the soul (animus animam) with its consolation. And the stars? We are permitted to suppose in the author of the book of Koheleth a knowledge, as Schrader

(Note: Vid., "Sterne" in Schenkel's Bibl Lex. and Stud. u. Krit. 1874.)

has shown, of the old Babyl.-Assyr. seven astral gods, which consisted of the sun, moon, and the five planets; and thus it will not be too much to understand the stars, as representing the five planets, of the five senses (Mish. הרגּשׁות,

(Note: Thus the five senses are called, e.g., Bamidbar rabba, c. 14.)

later הוּשׁים, cf. the verb, Ecclesiastes 2:25) which mediate the receptive relation of the soul to the outer world (Psychol. p. 233). But we cannot see our way further to explain Ecclesiastes 12:2 patholo.-anatom., as Geier is disposed to do: Nonnulli haec accommodant ad crassos illos ac pituosos senum vapores ex debili ventriculo in cerebrum adscendentes continuo, ubi itidem imbres (נשׁם) h.e. destillationes creberrimae per oculos lippientes, per nares guttatim fluentes, per os subinde excreans cet., quae sane defluxiones, tussis ac catharri in juvenibus non ita sunt frequentia, quippe ubi calor multo adhuc fortior, consumens dissipansque humores. It is enough to understand עבים of cases of sickness and attacks of weakness which disturb the power of thought, obscure the consciousness, darken the mind, and which ahhar haggěshěm, after they have once overtaken him and then have ceased, quickly again return without permitting him long to experience health. A cloudy day is equals a day of misfortune, Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:15; an overflowing rain is a scourge of God, Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; and one visited by misfortune after misfortune complains, Psalm 42:7 : "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me."

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